Georgia Tech running back and former Albany Herald Player of the Year Tony Zenon (9) makes a catch for a big gain as Miami defensive back Rayshawn Jenkins gives chase in the first half Saturday.
ATLANTA — After Georgia Tech lost in overtime Saturday for the second time this season and the third time in five games dating to last year’s Sun Bowl, Yellow Jackets head coach Paul Johnson sounded nearly despondent.
Tech’s 42-36 loss Saturday to Miami was like a kick into an oft-battered gut.
The Yellow Jackets (2-2, 1-2 ACC) stormed back from a 19-0 deficit with 36 straight points, but then looked nearly helpless as the Hurricanes (3-1, 2-0) rode Stephen Morris and his career-best 436 passing yards while scoring the game’s final 23 points.
Johnson decided to go for it on fourth-and-inches from the Miami 1-yard-line in overtime, but Tevin Washington — who had scored three touchdowns already — was stuffed.
Two plays later, Miami running back Mike James went untouched from 25 yards for his fourth score of the day.
Less than three weeks after losing in overtime at Virginia Tech to start the season, and with an overtime loss to Utah in the Sun Bowl still in mind, the Yellow Jackets’ last three losses have all come in overtime. In each case, Tech led well into the fourth quarter.
Miami forced overtime when Morris completed a 10-yard pass to James with 27 seconds left in regulation. That capped an eight-play, 91-yard drive that took just 1:33.
“I don’t know what to say,” Johnson said. “I think I’m as disappointed as I’ve ever been . . . You look back and it just seems like it wasn’t meant to be for us.”
Tech has lost four straight times to Miami after beating the Hurricanes in four consecutive years. The previous three were blowouts, including a 35-10 win for Miami in 2010 on its last visit to Tech.
This one looked like another rout early.
Morris found wide receiver Phillip Dorsett wide open for a 65-yard touchdown pass on the game’s third play, and Dorsett added a 40-yard reception a few minutes later. That led to Jake Wieclaw’s 38-yard field goal with 4:11 left in the first quarter, and a 10-0 Miami lead.
Matters quickly worsened for the Yellow Jackets.
Orwin Smith fielded the ensuing kickoff about 1 yard deep in the end zone. He hesitated as nearby teammate Jamal Golden held up his hands to suggest that he not return the kick, then started to bring the ball out.
He changed his mind and put a hand down on the field side of the goal line to stop himself. After he stepped back and took a knee, officials ruled it a safety since Smith had first advanced the ball across the goal line.
“(Special teams) coach (Dave) Walkosky gives the off returner . . . the decision if I should come out or not,” Smith said. “We had some miscommunications. My plan was to come out. I saw him put his hand up and my momentum kind of made me lean out of the end zone.”
The Hurricanes ran 10 plays after taking the free kick before James’ 1-yard touchdown run and a Wieclaw extra point gave Miami a 19-0 lead as the first period ended. Morris completed 10 of 14 passes for 153 yards in the quarter. He completed 31 of 52 with one interception on the day.
The Yellow Jackets rallied furiously from there, as big plays flipped the momentum their way in the second quarter.
A 57-yard catch and run by former Deerfield star and Albany Herald Player of the Year Tony Zenon was the key on their 91-yard drive to open the quarter. Smith soon swept 8 yards right for Tech’s first score.
Zenon, a sophomore, finished with six carries for 57 yards and was Tech’s leading receiver with two catches for 74 yards.
On Miami’s next play, linebacker Brandon Watts forced Dorsett to fumble, and fellow linebacker Jabari Hunt-Days recovered at the Tech 43-yard line.
A 37-yard carry by Robbie Godhigh helped set up a 2-yard scoring run by Washington to pull the Yellow Jackets within 19-14.
Minutes later, Golden’s 56-yard punt return put them at Miami’s 23, and they took the lead with a 10-yard run by Washington.
The Jackets’ run-based offense was good for 419 total yards, but their 287 on the ground were actually well below their average of 374 entering the game.
They started the third quarter where they left off. Zenon scored on a 35-yard run, and Washington on a 2-yarder. That one, with 10:06 left in the third, gave Tech a 36-19 lead. The Yellow Jackets scored their 36 points in a span of 16 minutes, 17 seconds.
But Tech went scoreless over the final 25:06 of regulation, and again in the overtime.
Meanwhile, the Hurricanes cranked it up again against a defense that looked tired, perhaps because of infrequent substitutions. They punted to end their first possession of the second half before their last four possessions in regulation were good for 74, 82, 88 and 91 yards.
Morris wasn’t sacked and rarely was pressured. He completed 6 of his 8 passes on the final tying drive.
“They just manhandled us and out-executed us,” Watts said after Miami had 609 yards of total offense and 30 first downs to the Jackets’ 18. “I felt like we weren’t prepared.”